The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Whatever Happened to AuH2O?

Posted on | May 14, 2011 | 43 Comments

“People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.”
Edmund Burke, 1790

In 1964, Sen. Barry Goldwater (a) voted against the Civil Rights Act, and (b) was the Republican nominee for president. Goldwater’s argument against the Civil Right Act was that it constituted an infringement of property rights. Ron Paul made the same argument Friday on Hardball:

I believe that property rights should be protected. Your right to be on TV is protected by property rights because somebody owns that station. I can’t walk into your station. So right of freedom of speech is protected by property. The right of your church is protected by property. So people should honor and protect it. This gimmick, Chris, it’s off the wall when you say I’m for property rights and states rights therefore I’m a racist. That’s just outlandish.

When Ron Paul’s son, Rand Paul, was criticized for making a similar argument last year, David Weigel was one of the few bloggers to defend his libertarian perspective. And as I looked at the Memeorandum thread Friday night, I didn’t see a single conservative blogger defending Paul.

Even though this is, as Paul says, “ancient history” — liberal Chris Matthews ginning up a moot controversy to smear a Republican — it troubles me that conservatives have become so intimidated by the Left’s constant cries of “raaaaacism” that no one is willing to defend the position advocated by Barry Goldwater in 1964.

“Oh, well, it’s just that wacko Ron Paul,” they say. “Who cares?”

Yeah? Well, it’s also Ronald Reagan, my friend. If you’re willing to let Ron Paul be smeared as a bigot over this, then I guess you might as well throw the Gipper under the bus while you’re at it.

Ronald Reagan enthusiastically supported Barry Goldwater, as did millions of other patriotic Americans, and that support included Goldwater’s principled opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It should be obvious that Reagan, a native of Illinois who lived in California, was not a segregationist defender of Jim Crow. Reagan was known to lash back angrily at the mere insinuation that he was racist.

And yet we are confronted by the fact that, a mere three decades after Reagan’s triumphant election to the presidency, most conservatives shrug with indifference while Ron Paul is denounced for even attempting to defend the solid principle that Goldwater and Reagan once articulated.

That argument has become lost in the mists of political history, and the troublesome issue of race has now been so thoroughly politicized that no one who has any ambition to a reputable role in our nation’s public life has an incentive to explain why it was that Reagan, Goldwater and millions of other decent, patriotic Americans opposed — or were at least skeptical toward — the Civil Rights Act of 1964. No publisher in 2011 is going to commission a book to examine that controversy from a perspective sympathetic to the law’s conservative and libertarian critics and so, for all intents and purposes, the history of that era is whatever liberal academics say it is.

This is a sort of intellectual tragedy, and I fear that it will someday have awful consequences. An unwillingness to make difficult arguments in defense of unpopular positions is simply cowardice.

Therefore, to summarize as simply as possible the argument here: The libertarian opposes all governmental coercion in matters of race, in whatever form this coercion manifests itself. So the libertarian opposes Jim Crow — coercion to compel racial segregation — and also opposes, inter alia, school busing to achieve racial integration or government-mandated quotas to achieve “diversity” in the workplace.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was, and is, a horribly flawed piece of legislation from a libertarian perspective. Not content merely to strike down Jim Crow, Congress passed a 16,000-word law that gave the federal government vast new powers.

Title VII (“Equal Employment Opportunity”) is more than 7,000 words and, far from addressing anything that we typically associate with Jim Crow — i.e., segregated schools, buses, restaurants, etc. — granted the federal government supervisory authority over employment practices at every business in the country! No business can hire, fire, promote or transfer any employee without first considering whether that employee might construe this as a grievance to claim discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.”

The Civil Rights Act’s most ardent supporter in the Senate, liberal Democrat Hubert Humphrey, famously promised that if the legislation led to racial quotas in the workplace, he’d eat the whole bill and yet, in less than a decade, federal courts ruled that the law did indeed require hiring quotas. So much for legislative intent (and liberal promises).

Go read the whole bill and judge for yourself whether, from the standpoint of limited government and the defense of property rights, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an unwarranted intrusion of federal authority into private life.

It may well be that, even with all the consequences we have seen in the past five decades — busing riots in Boston, bogus sexual harassment lawsuits, the rise of “diversity training” consultants — you still find nothing objectionable in that 16,000-word law. But if your primary interest in politics is the defense of libertarian principles, the Civil Rights of 1964 is a legislative atrocity, a massive and unjustified expansion of federal power at the expense of individual liberty.

So you’re not a libertarian, you think Ron Paul’s a crackpot, and you wouldn’t vote for him in a million years. Fine with me. But I think conservatism will not have much of a future, if it has become impermissible to say simply, “Barry Goldwater was right.”

I’m with the Gipper. How about you?

UPDATE: Welcome, indignant liberals! While I wouldn’t want to interrupt your furious denunciations of me, perhaps you’ll be interested in reading something more relevant to the 2012 campaign?

UPDATE II: “Ron Paul is right about three or four things. This is one of them.”


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